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Interview Bengali

It has been a rewarding experience altogether, says Avijatrik actor Arjun Chakraborty

Avijatrik, directed by Subhrajit Mitra, sees the artiste play the iconic character Apu who undertakes a journey with his son Kajol.

Roushni Sarkar

Six decades after Satyajit Ray’s Apur Sansar was released in 1959, the iconic character Apu returned to the silver screen in Subhrajit Mitra’s period film Avijatrik (2021) earlier this month.

Arjun Chakraborty played the character that has fascinated audiences around the world since Ray made his pathbreaking debut film Pather Panchali (1955).

Avijatrik is based on the last portion of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s novel Aparajito, which narrates the journey of Apu and his son Kajol, picking up from where Apur Sansar left off.

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Chakraborty was suggested for the role by Bickram Ghosh, who has scored the film's music and also received two awards so far. In a conversation with Cinestaan.com prior to the release of Avijatrik, Chakraborty recounted his experience working in the film, which is set in the 1940s. He also revealed why working in this film, conceived as a tribute to the legends behind the Apu trilogy, was a rewarding experience.

Apu must be a dream character for an actor. How did you happen to land the role?

Bickram-da first contacted me and spoke to me about Subhrajit-da’s works. After we got introduced, I did a look test.

From the scripting stage, I was convinced this was going to be an unconventional project. It felt like a dream project then and it feels the same even now. I am grateful to Subhrajit-da and our three producers, Gaurang Jalan, Madhur Bhandarkar and Sumit Agarwal, for agreeing to cast me. Also, thanks to Bickram-da and Sohaag Sen for backing my recommendation strongly. I would not have got the film without their support.

You must have been fascinated with Apu since childhood like many of us. What was the process of getting into character like?

I don’t think I have watched Apur Sansar more than once. I have watched Pather Panchali multiple times, where Apu is younger than Kajol, his son, [is in Avijatrik]. I didn’t go back to watch Apur Sansar again because of this film. Neither did I re-read the novel Aparajito. I didn’t want to get influenced by a different kind of depiction; instead, I focused on my original rendition.

I believe I got cast because I fit the physical and behavioural criteria of the character. Hence, I didn’t want to lose my individuality. I didn’t do a lot of research and invested my days and nights in the script, which was written beautifully. Subhrajit-da was always there to guide me. I didn’t feel a massive burden while portraying the character. The process was smooth.

The film has been shot at multiple locations. How was the shooting experience?

The name of the film is Avijatrik: The Wanderlust Of Apu. All the places Apu travels to have been shot on real locations. It was great to travel to so many places and the change of experience is always refreshing. Apart from north Kolkata, the film has been shot in Taki, Varanasi and Bolpur.

I think real locations add to the script’s character. We have hardly used sets. Agnimitra Paul designed our costumes. Though we had minimal make-up, I believe once we get into our looks, we automatically achieve 50% of the process of getting into character.

Then comes the body language and dialogue delivery. We were told by Subhrajit-da to remember that we belong to the 1940s and hence our appearance and gestures could not be too modern. I have got that guidance consistently throughout. I am not taking too much credit for the preparation.

This is a period film through which the entire team is paying tribute to the huge legacy of Satyajit Ray, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay and Soumitra Chatterjee. What are your thoughts on that?

The fact that all of the artistes who contributed to the Apu trilogy are legends was always at the back of my mind. But I didn’t want to be stuck with the thought, else I could not have proceeded with the work. It’s a sequel and an original piece of work.

The film has been made in black and white so that the flavour of a period film reflects well. I think it is a historic project. The film doesn’t show off much. The execution reflects the simplicity of 1940s India. The cinematic composition is not too modern as well: there is no use of drones and the film is slow-paced. Of course, it was challenging to do the production design, avoiding the modern cityscape.

How was the working experience with your co-stars?

I think I have worked with most of my co-stars for the first time in the film. I had worked with Baba [Sabyasachi Chakraborty] only in the television series Gaaner Oparey before and then I got to shoot with him in 2019 for Avijatrik. Casting Baba has been quite a commendable choice on Subhrajit-da’s part. I also got to share screen space with Barun Chanda for the first time. These are big takeaways for me, and I am going to preserve the stills of working with them.

Also working with Sohaag-di [Sen], Sreelekha-di [Mitra] and Ditipriya [Roy] for the first time was a beautiful experience. The characterization of Aparna, played by Ditipriya, has been quite unique and imaginative. Arpita-di [Chatterjee] has played the important character of Leela, which was discarded by Ray in his film because the actress who played the character had some personal issues. It was great to share screen space with her as she was one of the producers of my debut work Gaaner Oparey.

I think the audience will get to see all the actors in new avatars. Ayushman, my on-screen son, was very obedient on the sets and Subhrajit-da guided him well. It has been a rewarding experience altogether.

Can you recall a moment that was challenging to shoot?

There was a dramatic sequence in which a clash between freedom fighters and British troops goes on while Apu looks frantically for Kajol. The entire sequence has a dramatic musical treatment and it was shot in north Kolkata. It was a challenging performance for me as well because, in that sequence, Apu is not in a good state of health.

Music plays an important role in the film and through the soundscape the film highlights the cultural roots of this country. What are your thoughts in this regard?

I am an ardent follower of both Indian and Western classical music. I am a fan of Anoushka Shankar as well. I think the variation of the Pather Panchali theme — originally composed and played by Pandit Ravi Shankar — that Anoushka has played in the film, collaborating with Bickram-da, is an asset for the film.

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But the entire album designed and composed by Bickram-da is an asset in itself as well. I personally messaged him, saying whether or not the performances in the film will be discussed, the music will be embedded in our hearts. I think his work will remain a milestone in the global music scene. I am sure the audience will be transported to a magical world with the music. Everyone will agree that the music has helped in the making of the film tremendously.

The film has already been appreciated at various festivals. How are your feelings regarding the critics’ response and how excited are you regarding the theatrical release?

There are many critics within the common audience as well. I am not talking about them, who appear as critics on social media platforms, but there are genuine cinema lovers as well. All I want is for people to watch the film and convey their genuine reactions.

When the film was premiered at the Kolkata International Film Festival [earlier this year], there were two houseful shows with 50% occupancy. I hope that apart from the familiar people gathered at the special screening, those who truly enjoyed the film will recommend Avijatrik to 10 more people.

I can sense that a young crowd is quite eager to watch the film. It gives me hope when I see people, apart from senior cinema lovers who have enjoyed the Apu trilogy, express their interest in the film.

Apu is a timeless character. His relationship with son Kajol has got primary importance in the film, but all the characters are memorable. It has been a big achievement to execute the film in 2019.

I don’t think about awards too much, but the fact that the film has got appreciated by a global audience is a certificate. However, for us, the audience of West Bengal always gets priority.